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travel: Plenty of Irish charm and beauty; Michael O'Flaherty takes a journey to the dramatic coastline of Donegal.

Byline: Michael O'Flaherty

EARLY one misty Irish morning a long time ago, I passed by a sign pointing the way to a house called Lissadell.

It was the name that attracted me, poetic and evocative. I also remembered it as a place where the poet WB Yeats had written of two beautiful girls in silk kimonos.

Yeats had spent some time at that lovely old house with two sisters - Constance and Eva Gore-Booth - who were to help shape Irish history, the former becoming a freedom fighter for Irish independence, the latter, a poet and supporter of women's rights and social justice.

I turned off the main road to see the great, grey granite house which stands in rolling countryside under the shadow of another subject of Yeats's writing, the mountain Ben Bulben, towering majestically over Sligo Bay.

But tiles were missing from the roof. Plants grew from cracks in the walls. The gardens, which stretched down to the sea in an achingly beautiful vista, were weed-ridden. Glass from the shattered greenhouse, where once rare plants grew, lay sharp on the ground. Paint peeled from the windows and doors.

Fast forward to spring of this year and, during a magical holiday to Donegal, a part of Ireland not overrun by tourists, I took the chance to travel across the border to County Sligo to visit Lissadell again.

In 2003, the house was rescued by Constance Cassidy, a Dublin barrister with a sense of history.

With her husband, Eddie Walsh, she has lovingly restored the property, originally built in 1834, and made it both into a home for her seven children, and a wonderful monument the public can visit.

New life has been breathed into the old house, and one of the highlights of the mansion is the magnificent gallery, which is lined with ionic columns and classical art.

Fantastic gasoliers are suspended in front of the floor-to-ceiling windows and cast a serene light into the house.

The kitchen garden, overgrown for over 60 years, was reopened after restoration in 2006, and now supplies nearby hotels and restaurants with vegetables and fruit, as well as produce for the onsite tea rooms.

So, after my detour, it was with a lighter heart that I left the place this time and headed back for the delights of Donegal, with its dramatic mountains and wondrous coastline.

You can drive miles through the breathtakingly-beautiful mountain scenery here and not see another car.Sometimes the only signs of life are sheep and spirals of peat smoke wafting from peaceful chimneys.

Being so close to the border, Donegal receives many visitors from Northern Ireland, as well as Britons seeking the abiding peace that is part of the varying, everchanging scapes of land, sea and sky.The county has also some of the most spectacular golf courses in the world, where you never have to queue for a tee-off.

It is a paradise for anglers and walkers.

It has music, too, with the emphasis on fiddle-playing, and it has song.

In some parts, you can still hear the soft lilt of the Irish language. And it has fine food. The popular singer Daniel O'Donnell eulogises about his native county and his home village of Kincasslagh.

"I love Donegal more than anywhere else in the world," he says.

We followed in his footsteps one cloudless sunny day in the south of the county, where a famous bay stretches from Bundoran to Donegal Town and on to Glencolumbkille.

On the sea cliffs of Slieve League, we stood entranced by the vista, and, in a scene which has been enacted for centuries, watched the fishing boats from Killibegs bring home their catch.

We stayed in a quiet corner of Donegal, at Harvey's Point Country Hotel, which stands on the shore of Lough Eske, with the Bluestack mountains providing a stunning backdrop.

Just three miles from Donegal Town, it is a luxurious combination of Irish hospitality and Swiss efficiency.

Harvey's Point began with a holidaying Swiss, Jody Gysling. He was walking the hills of Donegal when he stumbled across a small cottage.

The dwelling, and its setting, reminded him of Switzerland and he was able to buy it from the local Harvey brothers.

From such a small beginning, the cottage grew into a hotel, which opened in 1989 with 20 bedrooms and two restaurants.

Jody's brother, Marc, and his wife, Deirdre, who was born in Donegal, then joined the family business.

As Daniel O'Donnell says: "You could sit for hours here just marvelling at the world around you."

We did just that.

MICHAEL O'FLAHERTY was a guest of Harvey's Point Country Hotel, near Donegal Town, which currently offers a special rate of E169 (pounds 136) per person per night for dinner, B&B (midweek) and E189 (pounds 152) at weekends. Normal B&B rates for double exec suite are E320 (pounds 256) and standard room E250 (pounds 200). Harvey's Point enquiries: 00353 74 9722208 or visit www.harveyspoint.com LISSADELL is open to visitors in spring, summer and autumn and year round for tour groups by appointment. Contact Angela Leonard on 00 353 7191 63150.

It is a paradise for anglers and walkers

The house was rescued by a barrister with a sense of history

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The magnificent gallery, in Lissadell house, is lined with ionic columns and classical art; Harvey's Point Country Hotel, on the shore of Lough Eske, beneath the Bluestack mountains; Fishing boats in Killibegs bring home their catch; The dramatic mountains and wondrous coastline at Kinnego Bay
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Aug 23, 2008
Words:919
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